7 Steps to Negotiating With Your Child

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By Ron Huxley, LMFT

You walk in and find your child playing computer games instead of cleaning his room. You asked him an hour ago to clean it. In frustration, you blow up, yelling at him to get his room cleaned up or “else.” He scrambles around picking up dirty clothes and toys. You stomp off. There has got to be a better way, you think to yourself.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Yelling often gets opposite results and results in a lose/lose situation. Even if you win (get him to clean his room), you lose (feel horrible for yelling). Instead parents can try using
negotiation. While, it is not a perfect tool, it will increase the cooperation desired from your child.

Negotiation is a tool that allows parents and children to make a win/win agreement. It is a learned skill and no child, that I know, is born with it. It must be modeled and reinforced by parents. But, because most parents, that I know, were children at one time or another, they were not born with it either. Therefore, here are several steps for parents to teach negotiation to your child:

Step 1: Know what is negotiable and not negotiable ahead of time. If cleaning his room after dinner is not an acceptable time because company is coming and you need the room picked up now, state firmly but gently, why it is not acceptable to wait. If it is an acceptable time to do the chores, then be flexible and make sure you are both clear on what “after dinner” really means.

Step 2: Be open-minded. Be willing to listen and consider the other person’s viewpoint. Stephen Covey, in his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that you seek first to understand the other person before you ask to be understood. If your child appears grumpy and depressed take a moment to find out why. Yelling will only increase the grumps and depression, backfiring on you in moments of revenge or decreased cooperation
later.

Step 3: Set a time limit. Keep the negotiation time short to prevent the discussion from getting off track. Most negotiation ends up in the blame game where there are no winners, only losers. Keep things on the specific topic and not on what happened yesterday, last month, or years ago. If you do get off track, simply steer yourself back on the right path by stating, “Let’s get back to the issue of when you are to clean your room.”

Step 4: Keep it private. Don’t embarrass your child by negotiating in front of his friends. He will be more likely to react negatively if he thinks others are watching. Ask to talk to him in a private room or ask for the friend to go home.

Step 5: Stay calm and cool. Don’t try to negotiate when feeling you are over heated, tired, or preoccupied with a hundred other things. If the situation gets too hot, suggest taking a few minutes to cool off and then resume the negotiation. Set this up as a ground rule before negotiating if you think a heated discussion is likely.

Step 6: Acknowledge the others’ point of view. Even if your child is totally off base, acknowledge his feelings about the chores. Those feelings belong to him and are valid to him even if they are not to you. One way to do this is to say, “I can see how you could feel the way you do given your bad day at school.” You never said it was true, just bad for him.

Step 7: Restate the final solution once it is reached. Most failures to cooperate after a negotiation is due to a misunderstanding about what EXACTLY were agreed upon. Write it in contract form if that seems necessary.

Of course, negotiation may not be enough. Your child may still not pick up his room. If that happens set firm consequences for failure to cooperate. Remind him of the negotiation and, in the future, write everything down so there is no dispute on the agreement. When he fails to comply, point to the contract and state the consequence. This takes parents out of the uncomfortable judge and jury role. Most often, children will be testing parents to see if they mean what they say as parents have failed to follow through themselves, in the past.

Children who are responsible and fun to be around!

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Cleaning Up Your Mess*

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Every parent wants a child that is “responsible and fun to be around”. Children will enjoy being this way too. Unfortunately, traumatized children forget who they are and believe a lie instead. Trauma introduces the belief that “the world is a scary place, caregivers can’t be trusted and I am broken and damaged goods”. In addition, they believe that “no one could love me…People will get rid of me just like everyone else…I am stupid…I can only trust myself…Life is not safe”, and on it goes.

A big lie is that it is not ok to make a mistake. This is because a life of shame makes mistakes feel like a reminder that “I am a mistake too”. Fortunately, if we have believed a lie, we can also choose to believe the truth. This doesn’t always come easily. Attachment research calls this cycle “rupture and repair”. Every family has a rupture in a relationship. The healing for traumatized children comes in the repair. In that respect, a rupture is desirable. It allows the attachment relationship to be rebuilt. New Positive experiences can replace negative experiences from their past. A simple strategy is for parents to ask children: “How are you going to clean up this mess?”

A mess is a metaphor for a problem that children create in their relationships and daily living. For example, Hitting their sibling over taking a toy is a mess. Not following through on doing chores and forcing mom to repeat herself several times is a mess. Throwing a tantrum and refusing to brush their teeth is a mess. Forgetting their homework and getting a failing grade is a mess. You get the idea…

Our job as parents is to teach children how to clean up their messes and be more responsible and fun to be around. Instead of nagging, complaining or lecturing, trying asking how the child plans on cleaning up the mess they have made? This is also a way to increase leverage. At some point a child will want something from the parent. When they do you can simple refer the child back to the need to clean up their mess before you give them what they are wanting. This reinforces the concept of working together. You help me and I help you. This is how we do things in this family…

A typical response to the question is “I don’t know” to avoid taking responsibility. Don’t engage in a fight. That is how the child distracts you from the problem in front of them. In reply a parents offer some of their ideas on how the child can clean up their mess. The best idea from mom and dad are the tough, most undesirable ones. Children don’t want to do the tough ones. They want to do the easy ones. Offering the tough idea will force a child to engage in the discussion and present a better idea. This will get their thinking brains online so that they start to consider better ways to treat others and make family life more fun.

MESSES are Mom’s LEVERAGE:

Sometimes (OK, often) children will not follow through on their plan to clean up their messes. That’s fine. Parents now have another opportunity for “rupture and repair” by waiting until the child wants something from them…and you know they will.

Son: “Hey mom, can I go to Johnny’s house to play.”
Mom: “Oh wow, Johnny has that new video game you have been talking about, right?”
Son: “Yeah, it is so cool. Can I go?”
Mom: “It really would be cool but it is soooo sad!”
Son: “Sad?”
Mom: “Yes, there is still this mess you made with that tantrum yesterday and all those toys are still all over the living room. Remember how you made that plan to say you were sorry and clean them up?”
Son: “Kind of…”
Mom: “So take all the time you need to clean up that mess and then you can go to Johnny’s.”

You can only imagine the type of negotiation that the son might try at this point, right? He might even choose to get angry and throw another tantrum. More opportunities for rupture and repair. This is where mom MUST stand her ground and stay as cool and empathic as possible. Empathy has a way of keeping everyones brains level and focused on the problem on not in a heated game of “whose to blame”. With practice on how to clean up their messes, a child will learn to be more “responsible and fun to be around”.

  • Original concept for this tool is from the book “Love and Logic”

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Parenting is a game…

Sometimes parenting just seems like a game…that you never win.

The child team has more energy, more time, and more players. To help parents improve the odds, we’ve come up with some new “game plans” that might even the score.

Here are three parenting tools that look like games but can really build cooperation and respect:

Follow the Leader is a parenting tool that can be used in two ways:

As a game; and as a “redirection” tool. When using this tool as a game, parents can invite their children to play “follow the leader.“ This game is fun on family trips or vacations. Families with more than one child can have each child take turns leading the family hike or singing a song. The leader has the power to choose which forest path to take or which song to sing. Each child (and parent) gets the opportunity to be the leader, thereby encouraging equality and fairness. When used as a “redirection” tool controlling children can be direct their need to take charge of a particular task, such as getting the family together for dinner or organizing a wood gathering party for the campfire. This is a great game to replace power-struggling.

Freeze Play is a parenting tool variation of the old stand-by: Time-Out

Time-out is usually conducted by isolating or excluding a child from the rest of the family or classroom. In this traditional form children are sent to their room, a chair in the kitchen, outside the classroom door, or left facing a wall. Time-Out has a number of disadvantages, the primary one being that it involves the use of punishment that may seem harsh to some parents and children. Some children may become out-of-control or physically destructive when put in isolation or exclusion time-out. Fortunately, parents can use a different form of time-out, that behaviorists call “nonexclusionary time-out.“

Nonexclusionary time-out, like isolation and exclusionary time-out, eliminates reinforces (interaction with others). It accomplishes this by freezing the moment of interaction with the child for a very brief, but poignant amount of time. For example, if a child starts whining when told they must wait for dinner to eat, the parent can firmly but evenly, say, “freeze!” The parent then avoids eye contact (i.e., attention during the discipline) for a few seconds and the child is prohibited from communicating during this time. Afterwards the parent can nonchalantly carry on the task at hand or use Time-In or educational parenting tool. Be careful not to place too much emphasis on talking about the misbehavior afterwards as it might inadvertently reinforce the child to misbehave again for the attention it gains.

It might be necessary for the parent to tell the child what is going to happen during “freeze play” and the expectation that there will be no communication/eye contact during that time, so that the child knows why the parent is “acting this way.“ In addition, the old rule of thumb for time-out, one minute for every year of life, can be used in Freeze Play by substituting seconds for minutes (e.g., one frozen second for every year of life.)

Huddling is a parenting tool shorten version of a family meeting without all the fuss or preparation time.

Huddling is a quick, informal, type of family meeting that any number of family members can have together and can occur at any time or place. Football players do this before every play to make sure the team knows what the plan is and to make clear everyone’s job. Family members can stop whatever they are doing to have a quick, little meeting about a specific problem or task. Parents can play the captain by telling the family to “huddle together.” Put arms around one another for support or just gather together in a circle, face in. Talk about the problem or task and assign jobs or ask for quick input. Decide on a plan of action and say “let’ go!“ Parents can use this tool at the zoo to decide what they are going to go see first, at the restaurant to decide what everyone wants to eat, and at home to decide what toys need to be gathered up before going to the park. While these “game plans” don’t guarantee a winning season, they can coach parents on new ways to improve their performance and their satisfaction in parenting.

OK, let’s play!

Parents don’t necessarily need a new idea as much as they need a new perspective on their child’s heart. What is your child’s uniques gifts, talents, perspectives, dreams, needs, desires, wants, fears, joys, passions, etc? The best parenting tool is seeing children through their eyes. 

Dream Parenting: Act/React or Act/Counteract?

Parenting can be considered a dance where two people, one big and one little, move in response to one another. Usually, there is one person in the lead and one person who follows. In families, it can be unclear who is leading. At times it is alright if a child leads but in the long run, parents must be in charge if the family is going to get the most out of their relationships. In order to do this, parents may need to redefine how they choose their dance steps. 

Try this new step: Instead of act vs react, try act vs counter act. Parents tend to react toward a child’s mis-reaction and this almost always ends in frustrated dancers. Don’t react to a child’s actions. Plan a counter action. Problems are predictable in that they will come up day after day after day. If what you tried to do (react) today doesn’t work, you can plan a counter act for tomorrow because the problem will be ready for you again. Parents can have a lot of practice with their new steps until it feels comfortable and natural. 

Parents don’t like the idea of act vs counter act because it sounds like a lot of work. It can be but it isn’t as frustrating as dancing the steps of act vs reaction. Parents will dislike that outcome even more. The key to dancing successfully is to be consistent with your counter action to your child’s action. Don’t fall back into the reaction with yelling, threatening or giving in. Try questioning, letting natural consequences be there own teacher or redirecting the child’s misbehaviors. There are many ideas available for counter action. Be creative. Do the opposite of what you usually do. Let the other parent cut in and take the lead in the dance when on is too tired. Sing your request, say nothing at all or whisper instead of lecturing. Do time in instead of time out. Or, just go walk the dog. 

Parenting Without Tears, Fears or “Rears”

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Do you know Rudolph Driekurs? If you have ever taken a parenting class or read a parenting book you might. He was a child psychiatrist and parenting educator that wrote several books on how to change challenging behavior problems. What was unique about Dr. Driekurs is that he did it without punishment or rewards! He believed that behavior is driven by the need for social connection and feeling inadequate or not “fitting in” is what fueled a child’s misbehaviors. He concentrated on what he described as the 4 goals of misbehavior. 

Here is a list of some of Rudolph Driekurs most important parenting tools and ideas: 

Mutual respect based on the assumption of equality, is the inalienable right of all human beings. Parents who show respect for the child–while winning his respect for them–teach the child to respect himself and others. Equality in this sense is treating each person with respect and integrity, no matter what their age. This also leaves room for parents to be in charge and to set some non-negotiable rules and limits, but to do so in a respectful manner.

Encouragement implies faith in and respect for the child as he is. A child misbehaves usually when he is discouraged and believes he cannot succeed by useful means. 

Feelings of “security” are highly subjective and not necessarily related to the actual situation. Real security cannot be found from the outside; it is only possible to achieve it through the experience and feeling of having overcome difficulties. 

Punishment is outdated. A child soon considers that punishment gives him the right to punish in turn, and the retaliation of children is usually more effective than the punishment inflicted by the parents. Children often retaliate by not eating, fighting, neglecting schoolwork, or otherwise misbehaving in ways that are the most disturbing to parents. 

Natural and logical consequences are techniques, which allow the child to experience the actual result of his own behavior. 

  • Natural consequences are the direct result of the child’s behavior. 
  • Logical consequences are established by the parents, and are a direct and logical–not arbitrarily imposed – consequence of the transgression. 
  • Natural consequences are usually effective. However, when they are not effective or consequences are too far in the future, use logical consequences. 
  • Logical consequences can only be applied if there is no power contest; otherwise they degenerate into punitive retaliation. 

Acting instead of talking is more effective in conflict situations. Talking provides an opportunity for arguments in which the child can defeat the parent. If the parent maintains a calm, patient attitude, he can, through quiet action, accomplish positive results. 

Withdrawal as an effective counteraction: Withdrawal or planned ignoring (leaving the child and walking into another room) is most effective when the child demands undue attention or tries to involve you in a power contest. Often doing nothing effects wonderful results. 

Withdrawal from the provocation but not from the child. Don’t talk in moments of conflict. Give attention and recognition when children behave well, but not when they demand it with disturbing behavior. The less attention the child gets when he disturbs, the more he needs when he is cooperative. You may feel that anger helps get rid of your own tensions, but it does not teach the child what you think he should learn. Keep your emotions out of the situation.

Don’t interfere in children’s arguments. By allowing children to resolve their own conflicts they learn to get along better. Many arguments are provoked to get the parent involved, and by separating the children or acting as judge we fall for their provocation, thereby stimulating them to fight more. However, if children are hurting each other, your intervention is necessary.

Fighting requires cooperation. We tend to consider cooperation as inherent in a positive relationship only. When children fight they are also cooperating in a mutual endeavor. Often the younger, weaker child provokes a fight so the parents will act against the older child. When two children fight, they are both participating and are equally responsible. 

Take time for training and teaching the child essential skills and habits. Don’t attempt to train a child in a moment of conflict or in company. The parent who “does not have time” for such training will have to spend more time correcting an untrained child. 

Never do for a child what he can do for himself. A dependent child is a demanding child. Children become irresponsible only when we fail to give them opportunities to take on responsibility. 

Overprotection pushes a child down. Parents may feel they are giving when they act for a child; actually they are taking away the child’s right to learn and develop. Parents have an unrecognized prejudice against children; they assume children are incapable of acting responsibly. When parents begin to have faith that their children can behave in a responsible way, while allowing them to do so, the children will assume their own responsibilities. 

Over-responsible parents often produce irresponsible children. Parents who take on the responsibility of the child by reminding or doing for him, encourage the child to be irresponsible. Parents must learn to “mind their own business” and let the child learn from the logical consequences of his own behavior. 

Distinguish between positive and negative attention if you want to influence children’s behavior. Feeling unable to gain positive attention, and regarding indifference as intolerable, children resort to activities, which get them negative attention. Negative attention is the evidence that they have succeeded in accomplishing their goal. 

Understand the child’s goal. Every action of a child has a purpose. His basic aim is to have significance and his place in the group. A well-adjusted child has found his way toward social acceptance by cooperating with the requirements of the group and by making his own useful contribution to it. The misbehaving child is still trying, in a mistaken way, to feel important in his own world. For examples a young child who has never been allowed to dress himself (because “the parent is in a hurry”), who has not been allowed to help in the house (“you’re not big enough to set the table”), may lack the feeling that he is a useful, contributing member of the family, and might feel important only when arousing a parent’s anger and annoyance with misbehavior. 

The four goals of misbehavior. The child is usually unaware of his goals. His behavior, though illogical to others, is consistent with his own interpretation of his place in the family group. 

  • Attention-getting: he wants attention and service. We respond by feeling annoyed and that we need to remind and coax him. 
  • Power: he wants to be the boss. We respond by feeling provoked and get into a power contest with him–“you can’t get away with this!" 
  • Revenge: he wants to hurt us. We respond by feeling deeply hurt–"I’ll get even!" 
  • Display of inadequacy: he wants to be left alone, with no demands made upon him. We respond by feeling despair–"I don’t know what to do!" 
  • If your first impulse is to react in one of these four ways, you can be fairly sure you have discovered the goal of the child’s misbehavior. 

A child who wants to be powerful generally has a parent who also seeks power. One person cannot fight alone; when a parent learns to do nothing (by withdrawing, for example) during a power contest, the parent dissipates the child’s power and can begin to establish a healthier relationship with him. The use of power teaches children only that strong people get what they want. 

No habit is maintained if it loses its purpose, its benefits. Children tend to develop "bad” habits when they derive the benefit of negative attention. If crying or tantrums gets children what they want, they will continue to use those “bad” habits. If they don’t work, they quit using them.

Minimize mistakes. Making mistakes is human. We must have the courage to be imperfect. The child is also imperfect. Don’t make too much fuss and don’t worry about his mistakes. Build on the positive, not on the negative. 

A family meeting gives every member of the family a chance to express himself freely in all matters of both difficulty and pleasure pertaining to the family. The emphasis should be on “What we can do about the situation.” Meet regularly at the same time each week. Rotate the leader. Keep minutes. Have an equal vote for each member. Only bring those concerns to the family meeting, which are negotiable. Require a consensus, rather than a majority vote on each decision. Some family rules are non-negotiable. Perhaps explanations or reinforcement of a rule would be appropriate.

Have fun together and thereby help to develop a relationship based on enjoyment, mutual respect, love and affection, mutual confidence and trust, and a feeling of belonging. Instead of talking to nag, scold, preach, and correct, utilize talking to maintain a friendly relationship. Speak to your child with the same respect and consideration that you would express to a good friend.

Regulation vs. Resolution

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Are you trying to build or rebuild the family of your dreams? Needs some parenting tools to remodel your relationships. Let Ron Huxley and the ParentingToolbox blog help you this New Year.

Instead of figuring out your parenting resolutions, work on relationship regulation. Regulation is defined as “a set of rules maintained by an authority figure” and “a process of self-management and control.” Modern parents are plagued with homes that are out-of-control and find it impossible to enforce a set of rules in the home. This is the new season for regulation and not for a new list of tasks to increase this or decrease that behavior problem. 

Resolutions focus on the person and not the problem. Regulation is a co-relational strategy between parent and child that is based on scientific research in the fields of attachment and developmental neuroscience. 

Follow this blog as Ron Huxley gives you new tools for this new season of regulation and find more family connection. Hey, tell a friend too 🙂

Dream Parenting Project: I Choose You

All families have disagreements and fights. It is easy to get into polar opposition toward one another and the result can be feelings of hurt and loss. How do you build a dream family when these painful elements exist? You make a choice! You choose one another despite the hurts. Of course, you work to change that negative atmosphere and you must have boundaries and even consequences for certain behaviors but you still make a choice to connect. Take a moment today to tell a family member: “I choose you.” If it is not safe to say it aloud, at least, say it to yourself when you are thinking about that person and how they wronged you. Again, set good boundaries and make positive, safe behavioral choices but make a choice to connect by taking your will to task and declaring: “I choose you."